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REPORTING · 3rd December 2015
Walter McFarlane
Kitimat City Council had a long discussion about their policy for mobile home parks on Monday, November 23rd.

“Since 2012, Kitimat’s housing market has increased, with increasing development activity and rising prices. Several existing vacant multifamily sites have been developed. Tenants of existing manufactured home parks have been concerned that their homes may be subject of a zoning amendment application. Council and staff are not able to issue assurances to tenants that their parks will not be redeveloped, as Council must judge any redevelopment application on its own merit. This draft aims to provide some comfort to tenants by ensuring that they are notified of any redevelopment application in advance of that application appearing before Council. Policy also requires a landlord tenant communication plan and outlines components which may be included in a relocation plan, should Council approve such an application,” wrote the Director of Community Planning, Gwendolyn Sewell.

There were several presenters to Council that night on the topic. Colin Light was there representing the residents of Vista Village. He was also speaking on behalf of a gentleman, George Carlowe, who was sitting behind them.

“I really want to thank the staff on a good job they have done, putting together a policy which would protect the citizens of Kitimat and hopefully, we’ll see it implemented in the near future,” said Light.

He explained Carlowe was employed by Alcan and moved into Vista Village in 1975. He moved into Delta King in 2013. Light approached the owner with intentions to sell the trailer, but the response was Carlowe would have to bring his trailer with him to Delta King. There were several people who wanted to purchase the trailer but these were rejected or could not abide by the strict rules of the trailer park.

“That being said, she would not allow it to sell or to sublet but every month, her agent was at George’s door collecting the rent. In my opinion, it’s either elder abuse or extortion, to take money from someone like this here who has no way to go, no direction, no voice other than myself,” said Light.

Mayor Phil Germuth warned against personal attacks which he could not allow.

Tom Riley was the second speaker, having been in Jed Stumps Estates for 20 years. He expressed to Council it was the only low income place in town for people to rent. He expressed if he was forced to move, it would be cheaper for him to throw a match at it and walk away.

Councillor Larry Walker asked if he was on a long term lease or month to month lease. Riley replied he does not think any of them are on a lease, as when he moved in, he never signed a piece of paper.

Paul Lagace was the next presenter, speaking on behalf of the tenants of both of the parks, commending the District of Kitimat Administration for the work they had done on the policy. However, there were three things he wished to address to Council.

“Trailer park residents from both parks would very much encourage Council to consider the District of Kitimat staff’s call for 24 months’ notice to tenants in opposed to the standard 12 months dated from the time of development application, particularly given to Kitimat’s climate and limited opportunities to relocate,” said Lagace.

He added the residents wanted to have a set dollar value as a minimum buy out option for each home as this would protect people who were vulnerable. He stated a year’s rent would not cover modest commendations in Kitimat.

He also stated Council needed to make it clear that any potential redevelopment would include any attempt to turn the trailer park into greenspace. He presented Council with an article written by Michael Gemmiti, from Manthrope Law Offices and who represents Vista Village. The article talks about how to close a manufactured home park and turn it into green space, which required no permits.

“Our folks at Vista Village in particular need to be protected in this by law against any possible park closure,” said Lagace.

Councillor Mario Feldhoff asked what should be the minimum buy out. Lagace answered it was subjective, but they need to look at the given costs in Kitimat. A given apartment costs $15,000 for the year and residents would like to see $25,000. He added this has to be fair to the owners but the owners stand to make a lot of money from the rezoning and this would protect people in the parks who are vulnerable.

Feldhoff reminded Lagace that any rezoning would have to have the approval of the Council. Mayor Phil Germuth added the policy would be taken into account prior to rezoning.

Councillor Larry Walker asked how many dwellings were in each trailer park. Lagace stated it was 47 in Vista Village and 35-36 for Jed Stumps.

Council also received several letters. Of note was one from Gemmiti, complete with commentary from the District of Kitimat.

Gemmiti expressed to Council that the policy lists several forms of compensation. “It must be made abundantly clear that a tenant is not entitled to all these forms of compensation. Though many forms of compensation are listed, there is no guidance in the Proposed Policy as to what level of compensation a tenant should expect,” wrote Gemmiti.

The proposed policy suggests having a buy out value for each home, with a possible minimum of $15,000, although Maple Ridge uses this policy with a $10,000 minimum buy out.

Gemmiti wrote the tenant is entitled to 12 months’ rent and there is no ambiguity as to how much compensation they are entitled to. He argues the value of a manufactured home is based on the park where it is located. Older models have a limited value.

“Thus, allowing a tenant to benefit from the value of the manufactured home is unfair as much that value is from the landlord’s financial and non-financial investments into the park,” wrote Gemmiti.

Gemmiti also stated concerns that the District of Kitimat will be given too much discretion in the case a tenant refuses to accept compensation. In addition, he points out there is no criteria to be used by the District in evaluating how reasonable the proposal is.

“There must be clear and concise requirements for an applicant to meet with respect to its relocation assistance plan or an application process risks turning into a farce with unreasonable demands made by a tenant (or group of tenants,” wrote Gemmiti.

He also requested more information on the need for 24 months of notice, given the residents of the park do not need 24 months to move, and most of the residents of Vista Village will not be able to move into a new park because of the conditions of their trailers.

“The Council report and the Proposed Policy seem to be a response to a problem that does not exist in Kitimat,” wrote Gemmiti. “The Proposed Policy seem to be heavily weighted in favor of current tenants which is not surprising given that only their input has thus far been sought and some of the underlying assumptions are without merit.”

The District Comment’s point out they met with the owner of Vista Village prior to meeting with her tenants.

Gemmiti advised the policy not be adopted because it is not needed in Kitimat. However, he also suggested in the case that it is, establish how to ensure a relocation plan is reasonable. Make compensation beyond what is required conditional on tenants being up to date in their taxes and maintaining their mobile homes.

Finally, he asks that the tenants not receive more than the statutory 12 months’ notice they are supposed to have. He wrote the application process will add more months onto the 12 as it is.

Council also received a letter from Al Kemp and the Manufactured Home Park Owners Alliance of BC. He comments on the need for a relocation plan. “If the closure of a park is not contemplated, any ‘relocation plan’ is moot,” wrote Kemp.

He goes on to write that Mayor and Council appreciate the value of manufactured home parks because the policy imposes onerous conditions on existing parks. However, this policy could discourage investors and developers from building new manufactured home parks in Kitimat. He adds at the end that his organization is opposed to municipal bylaws or policies which go beyond the provisions of the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act.

MasterBUILT Hotel, which owns Jed Stumps Manufactured Home Park also sent a letter asking for clarification on a number of points and were trying meet with their Ownership Group about the policy. They were able to get a letter to Council by the meeting where they agreed with the position taken by Vista Village and asked Council to defer the decision on the policy until further consultation with the stakeholders.

Councillor Mary Murphy moved the recommendation: For Council to adopt the Redevelopment of Manufactured Home Park Policy.

Feldhoff asked about one of the policies, for the District to know how many tenants have accepted the terms or not. Sewell replied their intention is to who have accepted the terms. She explained if 100 of 105 tenants have accepted the terms, then there are five still in negotiation. Their goal is to establish minimums and guidelines for the negotiations.

Feldhoff asked about payment options and what a fair minimum buyout would be. Sewell told him the appraised or assessed value of the home would be the higher amount in most cases. The District of Maple Ridge has a minimum buy out of $10,000. Typical is 24 months of pad rental. If a person is paying $200 a month, this is not a lot of money.

Walker asked if they have run this past the lawyers for a legal opinion. He was told no, they have not because it is based on best practices around the province and has involved park owners and tenants.

Feldhoff asked about the amount of notice which they were recommending. Sewell stated the APC recommended 24 months’ notice. She said this is different from 12 months’ notice because it would be 24 months from application received rather than 12 months after permits in place.

Walker asked if they will have to come up with a minimum buy out by the end of the year. He was told the answer was yes, if they wanted a minimum value, they would have to come up with one by the end of the year. However, if they wanted to leave it blank, they would still need the reference in the policy.

Feldhoff made an amendment the motion to change the 24 months of notice to 18 months. He felt 12 months was too short if they agreed to a rezoning and 18 months would be fair to both parties. The amendment was called and defeated.

Councillor Claire Rattee expressed she did not want to make things more difficult for either the tenants or the land lords. In addition, she did not want things in the policy which could be exploited. She also wanted to know about the Manufactured Home Parks Alliance who suggested this Policy would be a bad idea because it would discourage a developer from building a manufactured home park.

Sewell answered they wanted this policy to reflect the redevelopment aspect of the application. She expressed the Manufactured Home Park Alliance was not familiar with the current real-estate market in Kitimat than the Council was. Feldhoff pointed out there was a manufactured home park being proposed for Riverbrook Estates.

Walker said he was in favour of this, but was concerned this would make lawyers rich and the courts busy. He figured it would be tested in a court of law.

Germuth asked if Council wanted to wait for December 31st or go by the appraised or assessed value. They were told they could have a second round of public consultation, as requested by several parties.

Feldhoff made an amendment to set the minimum buyout at $20,000.

“The $15,000 was judged to be too low and residents want $25,000 at a minimum. Their options here, the buyout is one of several options. Given the number of units in place, I think the payment under the other two options, the appraised or assessed value is a higher value that is going to be a higher amount of money. The minimum of $20,000, even if the trailer is assessed at a higher value, I would see that as a fair value that is in between the two amounts that have been talked about,” said Feldhoff.

Rattee asked if they should do more public consultation. She was told by Sewell the formula needs to look at the number of homes and the carrying capacity of those parks. Sewell pointed out this could come into effect when both parks were full.

Walker stated he did the math on how much a $20,000 buyout would mean for a full trailer park and said the amount would guarantee this goes to court.

Rattee asked if this was a reasonable number. Feldhoff expressed this was based on the local real estate options. He hoped the other developments would prevent a drop in Kitimat’s real-estate and doing this would provide some money to assist tenants with a search elsewhere.

Empinado expressed concern and wanted to open discussion for more information. He added they could adopt the policy and change it based on the information they get. Germuth and Goffinet agreed. Goffinet asked if there was any place they could use more information. He was told they were comfortable with the work that has been done. Murphy told Council it does take a bit of money to bring a trailer up to code.

The amendment was defeated, meaning Council planned to adopt the policy and determine the buyout amount later. Germuth proposed an amendment to adopt the manufactured home policy and refer staff to options on buyouts and relocations. The policy was called and carried.